Pop Goes Jack

I lived alone with my daughter in a house which was far too large for us, but had the advantage of being inherited from my parents. I worked hard to maintain it and expected my daughter to do what she could to make raising her simpler. She was a quiet girl, her most obvious fault a tendency toward flights of fancy while I did my best to keep her anchored in reality.

After a particularly difficult day of doing the accounts, I was relieved to finally get to my bed. I’d sent my daughter off after supper to sleep and leave me be, so I’d finished up and had no distractions keeping me from my rest.

But as I slept, my dreams were uneasy. Off-key music, crashing sounds, the noise of wood on metal. A surreal landscape, of a knight versus an army of singing harlequins.

I woke up exhausted. Thanks to my dreams, it was as if I had barely slept.

Breakfast was tense. My mood was ill. My daughter also looked like she hadn’t gotten her proper sleep, quiet and with her head drooping towards her plate.

I decided to speak of my dreams, irritated at her silence.

“I had an awful time last night,” I said “It felt like there was a monstrous circus in my dreamscape. I kept hearing the same song, over and over. I cannot quite place it.”

At that, my daughter jolted. I narrowed my eyes.

“Is there something on your mind?” Not that I truly believed she knew the source of my dreams, but I was displeased at her acting so impolitely at the breakfast table.

“I have something I need to show you,” she said in a meek voice.

I set aside my tea. It was cold anyway.

“Don’t be vague,” I told her.

She led me to her toy room. It was a disaster! Toys were ripped apart and thrown all over the room, dolls were smashed, and worst of all my antique Jack-in-the-Box, passed down from my great-grandfather, looked like its metal box had been bludgeoned from all sides. That was when I placed the tune I had heard in my dream – Jack’s, before he popped!

I was furious. I gripped my daughter’s shoulders and shook her, hard.

“What did you do! What sort of girl destroys all her toys!”

“You don’t understand!” she said, tears on her face, her guilt surfacing far too late. “They weren’t being toys! They were attacking me! Only my knights helped!”

I gripped harder, so she couldn’t run off, and looked down. Indeed, her small collection of little tin knights, and even a wooden lance(!) that her uncle had bought her, were neatly lined up, like they had been spared her petty tantrum.

I knew what to do.

I scooped up the knights and her inappropriate lance and went to the living room, where I stoked a huge fire in the fireplace. If she was going to destroy her possessions, they would all share the same fate.

“No!” my daughter yelled. “Jack is still alive!”

I rounded on her. “And that’s the one thing keeping me from taking a switch to you! It will be a long time before you get another plaything.”

And with that I threw her remaining toys into the fire. A fit punishment for a child who should have known better.

My daughter lay down on the couch and sobbed.

I left to attend to my work, secure that I had taught her a lesson about behaving like a brute.

Behind me, I heard the sound of something metal hitting the floor, the stride of only one foot.

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